University of Otago’s research to make smartphones even smarter

Dr. Robert Odolinski, configuring a smartphone to collect multi-GNSS data. | Credit: University of Otago

The global positioning system (GPS) in smartphones is going to become more accurate thanks to research conducted at the University of Otago, New Zealand, in collaboration with the Curtin University, Australia.

Most people aren’t satisfied with how the GPS location on their smartphones isn’t all that accurate, say, for example, your smartphone says you are in the middle of the park when in fact you are on the other side of the park and aren’t even walking? A new research conducted at the University of Otago, and recently published in the Journal of Geodesy, is about to solve this problem.

Combining the signals from four different Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSSs), Dr Robert Odolinski from Otago University and his colleague Prof Peter Teunissen from Curtin University , have shown that it is actually possible to achieve centimeter(cm)-level of precise positioning on a smartphone.

“It’s all down to the mathematics we applied to make the most of the relatively low-cost technology smartphones use to receive GNSS signals, combining data from American, Chinese, Japanese, and European GNSS. We believe this new capability will revolutionize applications that require cm-level positioning,” said Odolinski.

He also adds that to understand this new technology, we need to make understand its historical scientific context.

“For decades, construction, engineering, cadastral surveying and earthquake monitoring have relied on high-cost, ‘dual-frequency’, GPS positioning to obtain centimetre-level location information. The challenge is that GPS signals, travelling from Earth-orbiting satellites to receivers on the ground, are disrupted along the way, and this generates errors and limiting precision. The traditional solution is to combine GPS signals sent at two different frequencies to improve the positions, but the antennas and receivers required have been expensive, far beyond the reach of many who would benefit from the technology,” he comments.

This novel approach utilizes only one of two frequencies but gathers data from more satellites, for what is known as a “multi-constellation” GNSS solution. This extra data (and smarter maths) is then used to improve the positions without the added money.

Odolinski also believes that this technology can benefit countries and industries of all sizes, by using smartphones as GNSS receivers, and is quite sure that this research will eventually lead to commercial application and development.

“This significant reduction in costs when using smartphones can increase the number of receivers that can be deployed, which will revolutionize a range of disciplines requiring centimetre-level positioning, including precise car navigation, surveying, and geophysics (deformation monitoring), to name a few.”

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